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2007 SEC Conference Preview

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College Football Preview: SEC - Can Florida repeat?


Philadelphia, PA (My Sportsbook) - What does the SEC have to do for an encore? The league won 39 of 49 non-conference games in 2006, winning 61% of those vs. the other five BCS leagues. Florida led the way by disposing Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS Championship Game.

The SEC had six teams in the final AP Top 25, including two (Florida #1 and LSU #3) in the top three. In addition, nine of the 12 clubs went bowling, with six coming out on the winning side both SU and ATS.

Do the Gators have what it takes to reach the title game once again? At first glance, the answer is a resounding no. The defense lost nine starters and quarterback Chris Leak is no longer under center. Ohio State had a similar scenario coming into last season, as only two defensive starters remained, but the Buckeyes did bring back a veteran QB in Troy Smith. The odds of Tim Tebow winning the Heisman are 12-1, but they should be at least 100-1.

Time now to take a closer look at the SEC with odds to win the BCS Championship:


1) LSU (8-1) - After winning 11 games each of the last two seasons, the Tigers are primed for a run at the "Big Game" with 14 returning starters, including eight on defense.

Strengths - The LSU defense began last year with only one returning starter on the line and just 13 career starts for its three top linebackers. This season, six members of the front seven are back along with 45 career starts from the LBs, so look for LSU to be even better defensively in '07. Both starting corners also return, which will keep the Tigers in contention for the top defensive team in the country. Matt Flynn takes over at QB for JaMarcus Russell, and despite starting just one game in three seasons with the Tigers it was a big one as Flynn led them to a 40-3 rout of Miami-Florida in the 2005 Peach Bowl. The Hurricanes had lost only two games that year by a combined seven points.

Weaknesses - Unfortunately, the senior QB will not have Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis to throw to, as both wideouts are off to the NFL. Still, the cupboard is far from bare, with Early Doucet and a host of youngsters filling out the position. One also must wonder how easily the transition will take place from Russell to Flynn, even though the latter posted a 9-2 TD-INT ratio the last two years. Both safeties have to be replaced, including No. 6 overall draft pick LaRon Landry.

Bottom Line - If the Tigers can get past Virginia Tech, they have a tremendous shot at an undefeated season. Florida, Auburn and Arkansas all come to Baton Rouge. On the other hand, only one SEC team has gone 8-0 in conference play over the last eight years (Auburn in 2004), so the odds are against it. Look for an 11-1 campaign, 7-1 in league play. LSU is 9-2-1 as a road favorite the last four years.

2) AUBURN (100-1) - It's hard to say a team disappoints when it finishes 11-2, but that's exactly what happened to the Tigers, who had the schedule to make a run at an undefeated season. Unfortunately, the talent did not match.

Strengths - Auburn began last season with just two career starts from three- fourths of its defensive line and the unit struggled, allowing 138 ypg with a 4.1 ypc average in conference play. In addition, top LB recruit Tray Blackmon was suspended for the first six games. Look for immense improvement as the line brings back 39 career starts this season, with Blackmon set to become the Tigers' top defender. The secondary, which ranked 14th in the country allowing 168 passing yards per game, will be even more productive with a better front seven in front of them. Quarterback Brandon Cox underachieved last season while playing hurt, and like the rest of the team, is due for an improved campaign.

Weaknesses - The offensive line was abused all season long, allowing 35 sacks, including 25 in SEC play. Four starters from that sorry unit depart, leaving a gaping hole in the offense, one that ranked 10th in the SEC in total yards averaging just 283 per game. Can the Tigers improve on that mark with both their leading rusher (Kenny Irons) and receiver (Courtney Taylor) off to the NFL?

Bottom Line - Auburn's recent history suggests tremendous success when the Tigers are slated for a middle-of-the-pack finish. They will win 10 regular season games for a second consecutive year with both losses coming inside the conference. Auburn has the look of a team that will cover most of its games the second half of the season.

3) ALABAMA (100-1) - Can Nick Saban resurrect the Alabama program in his first year at Tuscaloosa? He did take a 3-8 LSU Tigers club and molded them into a 7-4 team in his initial season, so the answer is yes.

Strengths - The defense returns the same 86 career starts that it had last year, but look for Saban and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to shape it into a top-10 defense. Former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite takes over as offensive coordinator after a fantastic job with Rice last year. The Crimson Tide will have its finest offensive output since the 1999 club averaged 29 ppg. Nine starters return, and redshirt freshman RB Terry Grant will could come close to breaking Shaun Alexander's team rushing record before his collegiate career is through.

Weaknesses - The Tide averaged only 17 ppg in its eight league games. Only Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss garnered less. The defense did just one better, finishing eighth in SEC play and beating out the aforementioned threesome along with Kentucky.

Bottom Line - Alabama was 6-6 in '04 and improved to 10-2 the following season. Last year, the Tide finished 6-7, but once again, will turn it around and go 9-3, 6-2 in the SEC. Circle November 3 on your calendar when LSU comes to Tuscaloosa, and just as Steve Spurrier defeated Florida, in his first year at South Carolina, Saban will get the best of the Tigers. Alabama is 2-10 as a home favorite the past two seasons, but that record won't hold in '07.

4) ARKANSAS (60-1) - After getting obliterated by USC the first week of the season, Arkansas rallied to win 10 straight games, but couldn't defeat the big boys (LSU, Florida and Wisconsin) down the stretch.

Strengths - Heisman Trophy favorite Darren McFadden leads the deepest backfield in college football, as the duo of McFadden and Felix Jones combined for 2,800 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. If fullback Peyton Hills can stay healthy, it will add another dimension to the passing game, which was pathetic when he was on the sidelines. The secondary has been on fire since the midpoint of the '05 campaign, forcing opposing QBs to throw more incomplete passes than completions.

Weaknesses - Injuries have killed this team, as defensive tackle Marcus Harrison tore his ACL in the spring and WR Marcus Monk ripped up his knee in August. Monk, the Hogs' only experienced pass-catcher, could miss the first month of the season. It will be interesting to see how McFadden and company do with a revamped O-line that lost three veteran starters. Not to mention what it will do to quarterback Casey Dick not having LT Tony Ugoh there to protect him.

Bottom Line - The Razorbacks have more questions than answers as the season gets underway, and I would not be surprised to see them open the year with a 1-2 record. Expect no more than seven wins, three in the SEC. They are one team to wager against early and often.

5) OLE MISS (100-1 - Field) - The Rebels have won only 11 of 34 games since Eli Manning left Oxford. If the Rebels are ever going to make some noise, this is the year to do it with 15 returning starters.

Strengths - The offensive line is the most underrated unit in the entire country. Left tackle Michael Oher will be a first-round draft choice and guard John Jerry could follow suit in three years. Look for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis to gain 1,000 yards for the second straight season. The defense, which improved as the season progressed, allowed an average of 19 ppg in regulation play vs. LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn, and the Rebels lost all four by a combined 17 points.

Weaknesses - Unfortunately, the top three tacklers all depart including LB Patrick Willis, but with improved recruiting, there is sufficient talent ready to emerge. Ole Miss has picked off just nine passes the last 23 games and the defensive backfield is in a state of flux with a host of newcomers vying for starting jobs.

Bottom Line - The schedule maker-was not too kind to the Rebels, as they draw Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt from the East. Otherwise they might have finished with their highest win total since 2003. Another four-win season is in the cards with just one SEC victory over Miss State mixed in. Arkansas, Alabama and LSU all come to Oxford, which is good news for those who wager on home underdogs, as Ole Miss is 9-3 this decade when getting points at home.

6) MISSISSIPPI STATE (100-1 - Field) - The Bulldogs have not had a winning season in seven years. Make it eight after this season.

Strengths - Anthony Dixon could get the entire city of Starkville to forget about Jerious Norwood. The sophomore running back gained over 300 yards in his final three starts, and hit paydirt nine times in only five starts. He'll be running behind an experienced O-line that brings back five players who started at least five games last season.

Weaknesses - The offense will go only as far as Dixon can take it, especially with Michael Hennig as the starting quarterback. In his two seasons as a Bulldog, Hennig has thrown 14 interceptions to just nine touchdowns and his completion percentage is a putrid 44%. The defense, which finished dead last in conference play last year allowing 28 ppg, returns only five starters.

Bottom Line - Miss State has not won more than three games in a season since 2000, and the Bulldogs will fail to reach four once again. Look for another 3-9 campaign, with all three victories coming in non-conference play. They are a wretched 6-15 as home underdogs since '02.


1) SOUTH CAROLINA (75-1) - All six clubs in this division have tremendous offenses, but only one team will be dominant on the defensive side of the ball, and that's South Carolina.

Strengths - The Gamecocks, Gators, Bulldogs and Volunteers bring back a total of 20 returning defensive starters and South Carolina brings back half of that total. Last year the "D" returned 55 starts and the unit finished 29th in the country, allowing 18.7 ppg. This year, the defense brings back 144 career starts, so look for SC to have its best numbers since 2000 when the "D" gave up 15 ppg. The offense has a few holes, which will be detailed in the next paragraph, but there is plenty of talent on hand, especially at the skill positions.

Weaknesses - The O-line lost three starters last year and the unit allowed 15 sacks the first five games. The unit did improve as the year went on, limiting the number to an average of one per game the rest of the way. Three starters depart once again, and Steve Spurrier has not been happy with his new-look offensive line.

Bottom Line - The Gamecocks lost to Florida, Tennessee and Auburn by a combined 15 points even though they outgained all three of them. This season South Carolina will win the close contests, and their defense will carry them to a nine-win season, 5-3 in the SEC, including wins over the Gators and the Vols. They might not cover many games early on, but ride them hard after September.

2) TENNESSEE (45-1) - The Volunteers have averaged 8.5 wins a season over the last four years and that's exactly where they are spotted in the over/under wager for total wins this year.

Strengths - Erik Ainge flourished under the direction of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, completing 67% of his tosses for a shade under 3,000 yards. The run defense was pitiful last year, as the Vols finished next- to-last in league play allowing 151 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. The reason? Only one returning starter in the front seven and Justin Harrell's season ended after the third game. Look for Tennessee to improve dramatically in this area.

Weaknesses - The offensive line failed to adequately protect Ainge late in the season, giving up 13 sacks the final five games, and the Volunteers won just two of them. The new unit hasn't performed much better, allowing 32 sacks in the last four scrimmages - the final two in the spring and the first two in the fall. Also, can the Vols' passing attack flourish after losing the talents of Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith?

Bottom Line - With an improved defense that includes highly-touted freshman cornerback Eric Berry, Tennessee will contend for the divisional crown despite its offensive problems. Look for an 8-4 campaign and a 5-3 SEC record. However, don't bet the house when the Vols are a home favorite. They have covered just 10 of their last 36 games when giving points at Neyland Stadium.

3) FLORIDA (8-1) The Gators will not repeat. Anyone who wants to bet them at 8-1, please forward your money.

Strengths - Florida has recruited well under Urban Meyer, so the Gators will not free fall into oblivion. Many offensive threats return in Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, Kestahn Moore and Cornelius Ingram. But more importantly, the offensive line brings back four starters.

Weaknesses - It's hard to call the quarterback position a weakness, but Tim Tebow ran the ball almost three times more than he threw in his initial campaign. He still has to prove he can pass as well as run. The defense, which must start anew with nine new starters, loses 19 of 21 interceptions, and only six upperclassmen reside in the entire two-deep roster. In fact, the Gators have one of the lowest percentages of senior and junior starters in the country.

Bottom Line - Despite winning the whole enchilada, Florida did not dominate the season the way a national champion should. The offense averaged just 22 ppg in conference play, and the squad covered just one of its eight regular season league games. Eight wins, five in the SEC, will be all this team gets. The Gators are an incredible 0-7 under Meyer as an away favorite.

4) GEORGIA (35-1) - Despite losing to both Vanderbilt and Kentucky for the first time in the same season since 1973, the Bulldogs rebounded with three straight victories to end the season 9-4.

Strengths - Matthew Stafford can't play any worse than his freshman season, throwing 13 interceptions to just seven touchdowns. On the flip side, he did win six of his eight starts. Georgia always has a solid running game, and both starters from the previous two years return.

Weaknesses - This will be the year the 'Dawgs defense allows more than 20 ppg. It hasn't happened since 1999. Seven of the top nine tacklers have moved on, and the unit returns only three starters, the least amount in over a decade. Only four players on the entire defensive roster have started at least six college games. Georgia is one of those clubs that reloads rather than rebuilds, but to perform in the SEC with such an inexperienced defense is really asking a lot. The offensive line is also in a rebuilding mode with just 25 career starts. In addition, offensive coordinator Neil Calloway left to become the head coach at UAB.

Bottom Line - Georgia will finish .500 in league play and win eight games overall for the second straight season, but like last year, will not look pretty in doing so. The Bulldogs are 11-6 as a road favorite the last five years.

5) VANDERBILT (100-1 - Field) - The post-Jay Cutler era started slowly with three straight defeats, but the Commodores won four of their last nine games.

Strengths - That four-win season under new quarterback Chris Nickson was just one victory less than the five Vandy won in Cutler's senior campaign. In addition, Nickson's 24 rushing and passing TDs were two more than Cutler totaled in 2005. Suffice to say, Vandy is in good hands as the junior QB will only get better, especially with Earl Bennett (82 catches) to throw to. All five starting linemen return and both starting tailbacks (Cassen Jackson- Garrison and Jeff Jennings) are 100% healthy at the same juncture for the first time in their Vandy careers. The defense, which had its finest season since 1999, will be even stronger with the return of seven of its top eight tacklers.

Weaknesses - Last year's inexperienced secondary allowed opposing SEC QBs to complete a league-high 65% of their passes. On the bright side, three of the four members of the secondary now have a year under their belts. Offensive turnovers must be cut down, as 21 TOs in eight conference games halted many scoring drives.

Bottom Line - The Commodores will finish above .500 for the first time in 25 years with seven victories, three coming in the SEC. They are an amazing 11-2 as an away underdog the last three seasons.

6) KENTUCKY (100-1 - Field) - Kentucky improved its record by five games twice in the last five years. However, the last time the Wildcats turned their fortunes around, they went from 7-5 to 4-8 the following season.

Strengths - If football was just about the skill positions, Kentucky would finish first in the East. Andre Woodson is the leading returning QB in the conference, and Keenan Burton returns as the leading receiver in terms of touchdowns. Running back Rafael Little, who was first team All-SEC two years back, gained 673 yards last season, but did so in only seven starts. Taking care of the football is always important and the 'Cats turned the ball over just nine times in eight league games. They were also tops in the conference in forcing 20 turnovers.

Weaknesses - It's obvious - the defense. Kentucky finished dead last in league play against the run (169 ypg, as well as 4.9 ypc) and vs. the pass (280 ypg). In fact, despite their offensive prowess, the Wildcats were outgained in 10 of their 12 FBS games last season. It will be interesting to see if the skilled offensive players can match last season's totals with a depleted offensive line. In '06, the O-line had 90 career starts, but the unit brings back just 30 for '07.

Bottom Line - Too many things went right for this team to be able to post another eight-win season. Expect a .500 campaign with a 3-5 conference record. The 'Cats are a great team to wager against this season.

August 21, 2007, at 02:34 PM ET

2007 College Football Conference Previews cont...
NCAA Football
1. 2007 Team By Team Previews
2. 2007 WAC Conference Preview
3. 2007 Mountain Conference Preview
4. 2007 Conference USA Preview
5. 2007 Big East Conference Preview
6. 2007 ACC Conference Preview
7. 2007 Big 12 Conference Preview
8. 2007 Pac 10 Conference Preview
9. 2007 Big 10 Conference Preview
10. 2007 SEC Conference Preview
11. 2007 CFB Independants Preview

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